The Beginning of the End

After the success of the Policy Conference and the rally to launch our campaign, MDC (T) has been conducting the primaries to select candidates who will stand for election in the 2300 electoral Districts that will be contested in the coming election. As we expected the State controlled media and our opponents in the election, have not been able to effectively respond to the MDC’s policy platform. Private media and many representative bodies and individuals have commented and on the whole, the reaction to our policy hand book has been very favorable.

The task of selecting candidates is never easy for a political party. We are on the edge of change and most Zimbabweans now understand that the MDC (T) is going to form the next government. This changes the whole tenor of the primary process – many want to be candidates because they see this as a job opportunity, many want to join the expected gravy train (“it’s our chance to eat” syndrome) and suddenly the constituents appreciate that those whom they send to run their local Councils and to Parliament will be responsible for the delivery of the change that they have all been working for the past 14 years.

We have required that all potential candidates must seek the approval of their leadership structures to stand. We have also directed that the elections must be by secret ballot and those who are allowed to vote are identified and approved before voting. All aspiring candidates are required by the Party to sign a declaration in front of the assembled voters saying that they will accept the outcome and work with the candidates so elected.

In this, I think the MDC is breaking new ground in Africa. I cannot recall any other Party having gone through this process. Candidates had to apply in January to be considered, then the Party went through a complex process to vet the candidates (nearly 40 were shown to be State Agents) and ensure they met the criteria laid down for each position. The final list of candidates was then put to the Party leadership to approve and then sent to the Districts who had to undertake the administration of the primary elections.

I am part of the team that is supervising and conducting the primaries and we have been hard at it all week. So far we have done 7 of the 12 Provinces and I have personally conducted elections in all those Provinces. One day we started out at 4 am and got back to base at 1 am the following day having driven nearly 1200 kilometers and conducted 3 primary elections – one of which was within sight of the Kariba Dam.

The experience has been encouraging and humbling, in fact I have found the whole process deeply moving at times. MDC (T) is a Party of the poor in Zimbabwe, the middle and upper classes in our society by and large do not support us for one reason or another. You travel deep into the remote rural areas to conduct a primary and after driving for hours over the most horrendous roads you have ever seen, arrive at the destination to find 300 people patiently sitting under a tree waiting for us to arrive – they themselves having walked many kilometers to get there earlier in the day.

There would be about half men and women – the two groups quite separate – the women sitting in the shade and the men standing around in groups. When we arrived they would gather together, listen as we explained what they had to do and then conduct a process which identified those who were eligible to vote on the grounds that they were leaders from their wards and branches (villages). They go through that process and the subsequent Electoral College introduced to the eligible candidates. These introduce themselves and we then hand out the preprinted ballot papers. They then form up in their wards and cast their ballots for the person they want to represent them either in Parliament or in their local Rural District Council. Sitting Members of Parliament have to be confirmed at the same time which means that they have to secure the support of the majority of the College.

When this process was complete we then ask the candidates to sign a form saying they will accept the results of the vote and are satisfied with the process up to that point. This is then followed by a very public and transparent process of identifying the candidates on each ballot and then counting the ballots to determine a winner. In all the cases I supervised, the people had a very clear idea of who they wanted in each position and the voting was emphatic. In one instance where the sitting MP was rejected, I thought he was going to collapse when we announced the result. A surprising number of sitting MP’s are not being accepted by their Districts.

The announcement of the results was always accompanied by an uproar with the women ululating and the men carrying the successful candidate around the clearing. In one case a young man (perhaps 35 years old) who had returned from the Diaspora to contest the primary and who had been living in the UK for many years, was clearly embarrassed by the adulation. He will now face a strong Zanu PF candidate who is a Minister in the GNU Government.

All the primaries were carefully watched by the police and the CIO. I would love to see their reports – this is the beginning of the end of the Zanu PF as a dominant political force in Zimbabwe. Everywhere we went the story was the same, this time we are going to finish this never ending crisis in our affairs. Back in the capital City it is clear, all the other political parties and especially Zanu PF are in disarray and nowhere near ready for this election despite their bravado. The message they will get from this process in that they are now being put, in fencing jargon, “on guard”.

Eddie Cross
Harare, 31st May 2013